BURLINGTON — Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has issued nearly 20,000 tickets for his Thursday rally at the Flynn Center, a venue that can only hold 1,400 people, police said Wednesday.
More than 6,500 people have “confirmed a desire to attend” using a verifiable email address as of Tuesday evening, the campaign told police. The potential that thousands of people will be turned away prompted police to issue a statement expressing concern about public safety.
The bombastic populist, who has led the Republican field for months, already caused a stir just by announcing the rally in the hometown of Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Some Sanders supporters have vowed to rally against Trump’s presence in the city where the Vermont senator began his political career.
The free, general admission tickets have been issued through the third-party site Eventbrite. As of Wednesday afternoon people could still register. The Flynn Center says it has played no role in ticketing for the event, and the Trump campaign did not return a call from VTDigger seeking comment.
Trump tweeted the suggestion that people show up early, adding that police are saying the event will be “first come, first serve.”
Huge crowd expected tomorrow night! VT Police say first come, first serve. Arrive early!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2016
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said it’s possible the Trump campaign allowed the event to become so oversubscribed because of reports that activists were planning to get tickets and then not attend, leaving behind a message with their empty seat.
“I know that it’s very common for campaigns to overbook venues, I’ve just never heard of a campaign overbooking a venue by a factor of 15 to 20,” Chief del Pozo said, adding “If this was a Phish concert it would be canceled, unequivocally.”
The mayor’s office and city police chose to allow the event to go forward because of a commitment to the First Amendment, the importance of allowing political speech and allowing people to participate in the democratic process, del Pozo said.
“Vermonters value the First Amendment and robust political debate,” Weinberger said. “In that spirit, I welcome Donald Trump and his presidential campaign to Burlington tomorrow.
“I am concerned, however, that the dramatic over-ticketing of the rally could mar Mr. Trump’s visit. Since learning the facts of the ticketing situation late Tuesday, we have repeatedly expressed concern and encouraged the campaign to take steps to better manage the event. There is still time for the campaign to communicate with the thousands of ticket holders to reduce the possibility of inconvenience or a public safety risk for attendees tomorrow night. I urge the Trump Campaign to take responsible steps to ensure the event proceeds smoothly and without incident.”
Activists and others who dislike Trump were encouraging people to secure tickets and stay home. The group Rights and Democracy is planning a “Love and Unity Rally” to oppose Trump’s hateful rhetoric.
Close to 1,000 people had expressed interest in participating in that rally on Facebook. The group’s director, James Haslam, posted on the social media site that allowing the event to become oversubscribed is “evidence they are looking for the spectacle of a fight.” Haslam called on protesters to be peaceful in response.
Chief del Pozo encouraged people who may only have a passing interest in Trump to consider staying home, and asked that his supporters and protesters be respectful of one another.
In an earlier statement from Burlington police said, “We reserve the prerogative to enforce the law in cases where expression or free movement throughout the city is unreasonably stifled through intimidation, force, obstruction, destruction of property, etc., or any other unlawful act.”
Del Pozo said he’s tried to engage Trump’s campaign manager and advance person, but the response has been limited. “We haven’t heard much back, but we’d like to hear from them about what they think we should convey to citizens about what to expect tomorrow.”
The Secret Service and the Fire Marshal will be handling security at the Flynn, and State Police and other law enforcement agencies will be available to help manage the crowd if necessary.
Weinberger praised the proactive response from Burlington police, saying it’s important to set expectations for the public about their prospects of getting into the Flynn.
Weinberger was loath to criticize Trump’s handling of the event, but he did say, “It’s not the way I personally would have managed the event.”
Residents should expect traffic delays and an “acute” lack of parking in the city, especially downtown, police said. Doors at the Flynn open at 5 p.m. and the event starts at 7 p.m., but police say Main Street from Church Street to St. Paul Street will be closed to traffic starting at 1 p.m.
There will be no parking on the City Hall Park side of St. Paul Street from College Street to Main Street. The line for ticket holders will form at the corner of Main Street and St. Paul in front of the Gryphon Bistro and extend around the corner south.